Dear Linda Sarsour,
I am both a proud Feminist(1) and a proud Zionist; not only do I not struggle with reconciling these two essential parts of my identity and moral fabric, I understand that they are natural extensions of one another.
My Feminism is intersectional, and if there is one thing I am sure we can agree on, it is that intersectionality is necessary as both a guiding principle and a pragmatic course of action. Feminism, which seeks the full liberation of womyn, must create space for and defer to the voices of marginalized womyn. That includes the voices of Muslim womyn. It also includes the voices of Jewish womyn—even if you prefer it did not.
We must recognize the fact that our Muslim sisters experience Islamophobia, misogyny, and a potent mixture of the two. There are elements in both Muslim and Western cultures which oppress Muslim womyn.
From the conservative camp come the men who are supposedly so concerned about womyn that they denounce the hijab as being misogynist; they are the same men who believe that “sluts” deserve to be sexually assaulted and mansplain the “Feminazi” myth of misogyny. They do not care about womyn; they just hate Muslims and are trying to find a PC way of saying it. Instead of challenging the male-dominated institutions that bring pressure to bear on womyn to dress a certain way or questioning the gendered concept of “modesty” (in all cultures and societies), while ultimately respecting womyn’s autonomy, these people are simply appropriating Feminist principles in order to pass off their Islamophobia as enlightened.
Jewish womyn also face misogyny, anti-Semitism, and the same form of denigration and irrational paternalism described above. Excluding Jews and Zionists from the Feminist tent is highly problematic. The Feminist movement risks losing some of the bravest and most ardent Feminists. In casting aside womyn facing misogyny and compounded oppression, the Feminist movement also becomes part of the very problem it seeks to remedy. That type of Feminism is not intersectional, and it is therefore irrelevant.
Intersectional Feminism must acknowledge and combat anti-Semitism in all its vile forms. Marginalized groups must be deferred to in defining the contours of the oppression to which they are subjected, so Jews must be the definitive voice in determining what is anti-Semitic. The collective Jewish voice has been consistent and clear: anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Therefore, you cannot be a Feminist while harbouring anti-Zionist sentiments.
I have often said that I am a Zionist because I am a progressive and a progressive because I am a Zionist (see my bio). Zionism, like Feminism, is a liberation movement. Like Feminism, which does not seek the liberation of womyn at the expense of men, Zionism does not seek the liberation of Jews at the expense of Palestinians.
There are, of course, Jews and Zionists who espouse problematic views on Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. I denounce these views in no uncertain terms. There are also, in case you have failed to notice, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims who espouse problematic views on Jews, Israelis, and Zionists.
For example, Palestinian school books still teach children arithmetic by counting dead Jews, and violent jihad against the Jews as a noble undertaking is still de rigueur in the curriculum(2). Leaders across the Muslim world continue to call for Israel’s destruction. They deny the Holocaust while in the same breath promising to annihilate Jews(3). Jews in Muslim countries are dhimmis (second-class citizens)(4), and Imams across the globe preach hatred of Jews (while many other Imams vocally denounce anti-Semitism and have close ties with Jewish communities)(5). Newspapers in Muslim countries are replete with the sort of anti-Semitic cartoons found in Nazi propaganda (so far, no Jewish person has gone into their offices and killed people over it)(6), and state media use anti-Semitism as a means of deflecting attention away from leaders’ corruption.
Now back to my Zionist Feminism.
Zionism is the movement to liberate Jews from the shackles of millennia of oppression, disenfranchisement, foreign rule, genocide, prejudice, and discrimination. Zionism does not seek to subjugate Palestinians. Zionism does not seek to subjugate anyone.
In fact, Arab-Israelis enjoy greater freedom and a higher quality of life in Israel than they would in most Muslim countries (and unlike Jews in Muslim countries, they are full citizens with equal rights and legal protections)(7). Christian Arabs in Israel enjoy rights and protections that they simply do not have in most Muslim countries(8). Palestinians even enjoy higher literacy rates and life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates under Israeli administration(9).
It is also important to note that Arab-Israeli womyn enjoy more rights and protections than womyn in many Muslim countries.
In the same way that criticism of Israel is not always anti-Semitic, criticism of Muslim countries is not always Islamophobic. In fact, I believe that when religion is in the public sphere, it is fair game for debate (so long as the debate is respectful). Everything should be fair game. Honour killings, revenge rape, modesty laws, and the exclusion of womyn from public life are a fact of life in many Muslim countries and societies, including the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-controlled Gaza. We cannot be intellectually honest or call ourselves true Feminists and progressives if we do not denounce these shameful practices; we do a disservice to Feminism and Muslim womyn.
Far from seeking the subjugation of Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, Zionism seeks to elevate the standard of living for all of Israel’s inhabitants. Israel’s humanitarian efforts around the globe—including in the West Bank and Gaza, on the Syrian border(10), and in other Muslim countries, is a testament to Israel’s commitment to peace, coexistence, and liberation—of all peoples.
That is not to say that Israel has never erred, that Palestinians have never suffered because of Israel’s policies, or that more cannot be done to better the situation of the Palestinians. But to equate Zionism with any form of oppression or to suggest that it is incompatible with Feminism is not only anti-Semitic, it is patently false.
Not all criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic, and I am the first to point out Israel’s short-comings—because I love her and want her to be better. These short-comings include some truly problematic policies vis-à-vis womyn in Israel. Most of them begin and end with the Rabbinate’s monopoly over Jewish ritual life and its interference with marriage, divorce, and access to abortions.
Israel is, however, one of the most progressive countries in many other ways. There are more womyn, including Arab womyn, per capita in the Israeli parliament than there are in most democratic countries(11). Womyn, including Arab and Muslim womyn, serve on the Israeli bench. Womyn serve in every branch of the military, in every role (including combat roles), and in the highest echelons of command; they are even paid more than men in the same roles (to reflect the added expense of pads/tampons/diva cups). Israel ranks among the highest in maternity and family benefits (including maternity and paternity leave)(12) and alongside Canada and Sweden in pay equity(13). Israel boasts 60 major Feminist organizations undertaking critical work to improve the lives of womyn and girls. Womyn in Israel outnumber men in higher education(14). Israeli law stipulates that government-owned companies must have equal representation on their boards and that in private companies whose boards are composed of solely one gender any new appointments must be of the other gender(15). Israel’s sexual assault and domestic partner violence laws are among the most progressive and advocates have suggested the model adopted by the Israeli army for dealing with sexual assault as a model for reform in other countries(16). Abortion is legal (though there is still much work to be done in terms of access), and emergency contraceptives are available over the counter.
So you see, I am a Feminist because I am a Zionist, and a Zionist because I am a Feminist.
Linda, not only do your Feminist leanings fall far short of qualifying you as the arbiter of Feminism, your anti-Semitism disqualifies you as a Feminist. My Feminism is intersectional. My Zionism is Feminist and my Feminism is Zionist.
1. I have written extensively on womyn’s legal issues. I worked with sexual assault survivors seeking legal redress and led public legal education workshops for womyn experiencing violence. I wrote an open letter to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) over the mishandling of an inquiry into a female judge. I also assisted in filing a complaint against another judge who evoked rape myths in a sexual assault trial. I received the Osgoode Hall Law School Institute for Feminist Legal Studies Vanguard Award for bravery in addressing Feminist issues and was recognized at my law school convocation.
3. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24442723 , http://jcpa.org/article/20-threats-iranian-leaders-made-in-2013/; http://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/170686/mahmoud-abbas-still-a-holocaust-denier; https://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-supreme-leader-touts-9-point-plan-to-destroy-israel/
4. See Sir Martin Gilbert’s excellent book, In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands (Yale University Press)
5. An example from Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_6wEZJT9dM
7. The Israeli Declaration of Independence: http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/declaration%20of%20establishment%20of%20state%20of%20israel.aspx
9. As compared to most Arab countries.
10. Supra at note 7; examples of Israeli humanitarian aid: http://www.israaid.co.il/projects; http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.760333; https://www.israel21c.org/israeli-volunteers-care-for-worlds-refugees/; http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/humanitarian/pages/default.aspx; http://www.natan-iha.org/; http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/133027-161219-israeli-civilians-step-up-humanitariam-aid-for-syria; http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/For-the-first-time-since-Syria-war-began-Israel-opens-up-border-to-humanitarian-aid-462521; http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/aid/pages/default.aspx; http://www.saveachildsheartus.org/.
11. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SG.GEN.PARL.ZS?name_desc=false Note that the number of womyn in the Knesset is actually 33, not 27.
16. http://www.genderindex.org/country/israel , http://www.1202.org.il/en/union/about/achievements , http://womensenews.org/2016/07/israeli-groups-start-a-culture-project-against-rape-and-harassment/ , http://www.salon.com/2013/06/05/answer_to_militarys_sexual_assault_problem_may_be_overseas/